Physical Signs of Alcoholism
some Alarming Facts 

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : May 1,
2021
| 16 Sources


Physical signs of alcoholism from excessive and chronic alcohol abuse can show alarming physical signs. Heavy use of alcohol is known to have a serious impact on our bodies. It can also impact our mental health.

When we think about the physical impacts alcohol can have, many of the conditions we think of are not visible. For further information on how alcohol abuse can impact our health, please follow the link

Perhaps the best known physical symptom of alcoholism is the tremor known as delirium tremens, which sometimes affects only the hands but other times affects the whole body. There are many other physical signs and symptoms of alcoholism, however.

Alcohol dependence is not a joke, it is a matter of life and death.

The First Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Why it's Important to Know

There are ten warning signs of alcoholism.

But they are not all present in the early stages of alcoholism.

It is important to catch alcoholism early and do something about it. Why? Because it destroys people physically, mentally and emotionally. On top of this it does immeasurable damage to those around the alcoholic.

Unfortunately due to alcoholism denial, a common characteristic of the alcohol dependent, it is an uphill struggle to get help to an alcoholic in the early stages of the disease.

When trying to identify whether you or someone you care about is displaying the first physical signs of alcoholism, it is important to know the difference between alcoholism warning signs and problem drinking. (for a more detailed discussion of the difference between the two, read drinking problems).

The Early Physical Signs of Alcoholism
What are they?

There are three stages of alcoholism.

The first signs of alcoholism become apparent in the first stage of alcoholism.

FIRST SIGNS OF ALCOHOLISM:

The individual....

  • ....no longer uses drink socially. They may drink alone.
  • ....uses drink as a means to deal with their emotional problems. They may also use it to make themselves 'feel' happy.
  • ....sees their tolerance for alcohol increase. They can drink considerably more than their friends.
  • ....does not appear to be drunk although they have consumed a lot of alcohol.
  • ....does not appear to suffer from the ill-effects of drinking too much. No hangovers or the like.
  • ....might start to lie about how much and how often they drink.
  • ....becomes defensive when questioned about drinking habits.

The person in the first stage of alcoholism is often a functional alcoholic. He/she shows no outward physical signs of alcoholism, continuing to function as if everything is fine.

physical signs of alcoholismPhoto by kevin laminto

First Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Problem Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Both alcoholism and problem drinking are damaging. Damaging to your health, both physical and mental, and damaging to those who care about you.

However, although alcoholism is most definitely problem drinking, problem drinking is not necessarily alcoholism.

Confused? Let me explain.....

PROBLEM DRINKING
If you have a problem with drinking (you abuse alcohol) it means that you use alcohol in such a way that it is harmful to you.

What I mean by this is that the way you use (abuse) it harms you in some way. It could be affecting....

  • Your physical health
  • Your mental health
  • You relationships
  • Your job


....and yet you continue to drink despite these problems.

These are NOT the first signs of alcoholism but signs that you have a problem with drinking.

Although problem drinking may lead to alcoholism it is not alcoholism.

Ten Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Individuals in the first and second stages of alcoholism usually.....

1. ...always finding a reason to drink. This can be to celebrate something good, cope with something bad, its sunny out, its raining, etc. Simply finding any reason to drink. Their attention is spent thinking about their next drink, getting alcohol or recovery from its effects.

2. ...hide drink around the house. Knowing all the places where alcohol can be hid; laundry hampers, in the garage, or in the suitcases in the back of the closet. Alcohol is hidden to ensure that it can be used by the person hiding it whenever they want. If some are found, there is usually more elsewhere.

3. ...only attend events where it is possible to drink. Parties, bars, friends' homes etc. are O.K. Such things as the cinema, a hike in the mountain are avoided. Drinking at these occasions blends in with the environment and wouldn’t stand out to by standers.

4. ....go to bed late, after their partner This can be one of the symptoms of alcoholism. This is an opportunity to drink in peace and without anyone counting how many drinks they are having.

5. ....gradually start to drink earlier and earlier during the day (in order to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms).

6. ....will become very defensive when questioned about their drinking habits. Often they will become verbally aggressive and sometimes physically aggressive. They usually have a reason for their drinking when challenged about it.

7. ....drink BEFORE they go out to drink. This is so they get a head start and it doesn't look as if they are drinking too much in front of other people. It can also be a way to cut the cost of reaching the point of intoxication.

8. ....neglect things in favor of drink. Personal hygiene might suffer or they might start not eating properly. Hobbies, friends etc. may well start to become less important to them as the drink takes hold.

9. ....start to go on benders. Disappearing for hours, days even on a drinking binge. Searching for an everlasting high and not wanting to come down. Because they know what the repercussions will be. Feelings of remorse, guilt, self-loathing and all the other negative feelings that reside in the soul of a drink addict.

10....suffer from hangovers, stomach problems, alcoholic tremors in the  

hands when they haven't had a drink for a while etc.

The above are just the top ten warning signs of alcoholism, other signs and symptoms can include alcoholic blackouts, daily drinking, drinking alone, financial problems due to drinking, family problems due to drinking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, health issues caused by alcohol, constant unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking and cravings/obsession for drink.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Who is an Alcoholic?

Anybody can be an alcoholic.

No matter their birth, the size of their wallets, the look on their face etc.

Alcoholism cuts across all creeds and colors.

If you answer yes to two or more of the questions on the CAGE questionnaire then the chances are that you are an alcoholic.

signs of alcoholismPhoto by Brad Neathery

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholism Quiz

A self-diagnostic alcoholism test is a great way to discover if you have a drinking problem or not. The only problem is finding one which is suitable for you. We have gathered together the most effective and accurate tests available, tests that can assist you in discovering whether you have a drinking problem or not.

Common Physical Signs of Alcoholism

There are some common physical signs of alcoholism you might notice when you look at someone else that has a serious drinking problem, including:

· Trembling hands (this common symptom of alcoholism is called delirium tremens and usually occurs when someone begins to withdraw from alcohol)

· Full body tremors

· Yellowish skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes (a sign of liver damage called jaundice)

· Pale skin (a result of iron deficiency, sometimes referred to as anemia, common in alcoholics)

· Restlessness, difficulty sitting still

· Seizures (get medical help immediately if you or a loved one has a seizure and you aren’t sure of the cause or think it may be alcohol-induced)

· Alcohol poisoning which requires immediate medical attention

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Other Physical Symptoms

You can’t see every physical symptom of alcoholism just by looking at someone, though.  Some other symptoms can be detected by simple medical tests, like these:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin B1 (thiamine deficiency), and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies (detected with simple blood tests)
  • Liver problems such as Fibrosis and a fatty liver (often can be detected by simple blood tests)
  • High blood pressure (checked with an easy-to-use device called a sphygmomanometer; you don’t even need to see a doctor for this test, since many pharmacies have sphygmomanometers available for patients to check their blood pressure in the store and you can also purchase one at a reasonable cost for use at home)
  • Irregular heartbeat (often can be detected simply by taking your pulse)
  • High blood sugar in diabetics (this can be tested at home with a glucometer, an easy-to-use device most diabetics already own)
  • A variety of heart conditions such as Cardiomyopathy and Arrhythmias
  • Pancreas damage
  • Drinking can decrease our immune systems ability to protect us
  • Can increase our risk of some cancers such as Esophageal cancer and Breast Cancer
  • Long term and short term memory difficulties
  • Learning difficulties

Still other physical symptoms of alcoholism, like ulcers, nerve damage, and changes in the structure of the brain (leading to dementia and serious psychological problems) require more complicated medical tests to diagnose.

A doctor can evaluate any symptoms you have and determine if further tests are needed. For example, if you have symptoms that suggest an ulcer, a doctor might recommend an endoscopy, a procedure in which a tiny camera is used to inspect the inside of your throat, stomach, and the upper portion of your small intestine.

If you are worried about any signs that you have noticed within yourself, the next step would be to contact your Medical Provider.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Addictive Personality Disorder

There are those who argue that some personality types are more likely to engage in addictive/obsessive behavior.

Others see it differently and believe that substances (such as alcohol and other drugs) change the make-up of the brain resulting in addictive behavior. It is not possible, in their view, to be addicted to activities. Hence, there is no such thing as addictive personality disorder.

For more on this debate, read addictive personality disorder.

Is there a Personality of an Alcoholic?

There are people who believe that some personality characteristics make it more likely that a person will become alcoholic.

There are others who believe that an individual undergoes personality changes as their alcoholism progresses.

Read the personality of an alcoholic for more on this controversial topic.

Physical signsPhoto by Sangria Señorial

The Functional Alcoholic is still an Alcoholic

Some alcoholics might use the excuse that they may show some physical signs of alcoholism however they can’t have a problem with drink because they have no problems at home or at work.

Sounds convincing.... Welcome to the world of the functional alcoholic. Learn more about functional alcoholism.

In the first stage of alcoholism it is common for the individual to display no outward problems from their drinking.

Just wait until the condition progresses to the second stage, then they can watch their life fall apart.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Alcoholic Women

Recent research suggests that women are more susceptible to developing alcohol addiction than men.

Read alcoholic women to understand more on why women drink and the effect it can have on their physical health.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
The Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is not classed as one of the signs of alcoholism.

Yet the dangers of binge drinking are as great as those of alcoholism.

Teen binge drinking and college binge drinking can lead to alcoholism later in life. Click here for binge drinking facts.

 Alcoholism Denial is a Symptom of Alcoholism

Many alcoholics will deny they have a problem with alcohol. It is a classic sign of alcoholism.

Not only will they deny it to other people but also to themselves. They truly believe they do not have a problem.

Getting an alcoholic to admit they have a problem is a major part of treating alcoholism.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Definition of Alcoholism

There are a multitude of definitions of alcoholism, all as valid as each other.

The reason for this variety is that different organizations, health bodies etc. have different approaches to alcohol dependency.

There are many Types of Alcoholism

Anybody can become an alcoholic. Just because you are young, a woman, elderly, disabled, wealthy, successful etc. does not make you immune from this disease. I am a case in point....

I was born into a wealthy, privileged background. I like to think I am intelligent (I may well be wrong). I went to the best schools, graduated from a good university and have had a succession of good jobs.

Yet, by the age of 30, I had been in rehab three times and had still not got a handle on my demons.

KEEP IN MIND THAT......

If you follow moderate drinking guidelines then you will you not have drinking problems. And, more importantly, you will not become alcoholic.

There is no accepted alcoholism cure, though there is a vocal minority who would disagree with this.

Abstinence (that is not drinking at all) is the currently accepted treatment for drink dependency.

It is not easy to stay away from drink so it is always a battle between the individual and the bottle.

However, if abstinence is not for you, then there are other options available, visit AA Alternatives for alcohol treatment options that do not require abstinence from alcohol.

If You Notice Physical Signs of Alcoholism

If you notice physical signs of alcoholism in yourself or a loved you, an evaluation by a physician is in order. A diagnosis of alcoholism isn’t made on the basis of one physical symptom of alcoholism; it’s made on the basis of how alcohol affects a person, whether or not it’s causing problems in his life and whether or not he is able to stop drinking if he wants to.

Alcohol Use Disorder is the clinical wording for an official diagnosis and is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This is a tool used by both Medical and Mental Health providers to assess and diagnosis a variety of mental health disorders and concerns.

The diagnosis for Alcohol Use Disorder has 11 criteria options that the individual may relate to. Depending on how many the individual relates to, there will be a specifier (mild, moderate or severe) when using a clinical diagnosis.

It is important to note that specialized training and education is required to give someone a mental health diagnosis. This means that without the proper background, we are not able to diagnosis our selves or anyone else with a clinical disorder. This is different than choosing to identify as an alcoholic. 

A doctor will, however, determine if the symptoms you’re experiencing are in fact related to alcohol use or abuse and recommend the appropriate treatment. It is important to be open and honest with your doctor about how much you drink, how often you drink, how long you have been drinking as well as the concerns you may have. All information is needed to make sure that you get the best possible care.

Treatment for physical symptoms related to alcoholism will include symptom-specific treatment; for instance, treatment for iron deficiency will include taking iron supplements and treatment for high blood pressure may include both medication and dietary changes.

However, you’ll also need to stop drinking if your alcohol use has caused medical problems like these. Your doctor can probably refer you to a treatment center for alcoholics where you can get the help you need to stop drinking. If your doctor doesn’t offer a referral, ask for one.

Treating Alcoholism VS. Treating Problem Drinking

Problem drinking is much easier to ‘treat’ than alcoholic drinking. So if you think you have a problem sort it out now before you do serious damage to your health, family, job etc.

Get educated on the dangers of drinking too much, see a therapist, change your social circle do what you need to do before it’s too late.

It may seem hard but it is much easier to do it now than when you start showing signs of alcoholism. I know, because I waited too long. I ignored the signs of alcoholism and paid the price.

Treatment for alcoholism, once you accept you need it (which can take a LONG time due to alcoholism denial) is tough and is not guaranteed to work.

It is a sad fact but only a minority of people recover from alcoholism and for those who don’t the end stage of alcoholism is invariably, death

Physical Signs of Alcoholism
Treatment Options for Alcoholism

As mentioned above, your doctor may recommend that you enroll in treatment for your alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is viewed as a Mental Health Concern which means that there is more to it than just not drinking. 

This would explain why many alcoholics who try to stop drinking cold turkey, or on their own, struggle to maintain sobriety. There is usually more to drinking than just alcohol.

Depending on the severity of your alcoholism, there are several levels of care that your doctor could recommend. 

Detoxification would be appropriate if there are concerns about withdrawal such as DT’s and seizures. Inpatient treatment occurs in a controlled environment and focuses on providing education about the disease as well as information about a healthy recovery. Outpatient treatment is often recommended for individuals who are able to continue in their work and other responsibilities. For many, a combination of all three is needed to build a solid foundation for recovery. 

For some individuals, medications may be used in additional to behavioral interventions.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:



Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


Hello!

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More



Sources:  

Additional information about Alcohol Use Disorder: Alcohol use disorder - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic

Alcoholics Anonymous. What is A.A.?. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Alcohol and Drug Abuse. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Glossary_of_Symptoms_and_Illnesses/Alcohol_and_Drug_Abuse.aspx

Article written by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism regarding the different levels of drinking: Drinking Levels Defined | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)

ClinicalTrials.gov. Baclofen for Treating Anxiety and Alcoholism. December 18, 2012. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01751386

Effects from alcohol on our bodies: Alcohol's Effects on the Body | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)

Facts and statistics regarding alcohol use in the United States: Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)

Further information about treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder: Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help (nih.gov)

How alcohol use effects our health provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC): Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts | CDC

Information about each stage of addiction: Signs of Alcoholism: Symptoms of Early, Chronic & End Stages (americanaddictioncenters.org)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. 2014. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help#pub-toc1

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Alcohol. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/alcohol

Pamphlet provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism listing criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis:  Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5 (nih.gov)

PubMed. Late-Life Drinking Problems: The Predictive Roles of Drinking Level vs. Drinking Pattern. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28499111/

Rethinking Drinking. What are Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder? https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/Whats-the-harm/What-Are-Symptoms-Of-Alcohol-Use-Disorder.aspx

Sinclair Method. What is the Sinclair Method? https://www.sinclairmethod.org/what-is-the-sinclair-method-2/


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